If it takes three instances to make a trend, then Admission, the romantic comedy starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd that opened this weekend, makes it official: Fey may take on a great many subjects in her movies and television work, but her great emerging theme is what happens when professional women in their late thirties are confronted with their own maternal urges. Admission, which flips the script on efforts concerned with fertility like Baby Mama and 30 Rock, could have been a fresh take for Fey, a look at a character who genuinely doesn’t want to have children. But unfortunately, it’s her weakest stab at the subject yet, a movie that’s unwilling to grapple with the reasons other than simply being busy that a woman might have put off childbearing—or why a woman might not want children at all.
In Admission, unlike her previous characters, who have had trouble conceiving, Portia Nathan, Fey’s rigid Princeton admissions officer character, got pregnant in college. Rather than raise the child, Portia gave up the baby for adoption, and buried all thoughts of having a family so deep that they don’t resurface until 16 years later, when they’re forcibly unearthed by a classmate, John Pressman (Paul Rudd), who believes one of the students at the alternative school that he runs is Portia’s son. What follows is Portia’s quest to get the boy, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) into Princeton, hoping that his love of learning and exceptionally high test scores will offset his extremely poor grades and lack of activities.
But while all of her efforts, including getting Jeremiah a chance to stay on campus, setting up an interview with an eccentric professor of philosophy, and trying to juice his ventriloquism hobby into a legitimate side pursuit, are mildly amusing, they also serve to allow Admission to avoid larger, and much more interesting, questions. We learn that Portia’s college boyfriend broke up with her before she found out she was pregnant, but the movie never asks whether she would have kept her child had they stayed together. When, before Portia meets Jeremiah, her long-term boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen, who played one of Liz Lemon’s most irritating boyfriends on 30 Rock), an English professor, leaves her for a Virginia Woolf scholar he’s gotten pregnant with twins, Admission focuses more on the fact that the other woman is more glamorous than Portia, rather than interrogating the idea that Portia’s stated lack of interest in children might have made her less desirable to a man who feels the pull of a more conventional family structure, even though he hates kids. And while Portia clearly feels that she didn’t do right by Jeremiah, Admission never makes remotely clear what, other than getting him into Princeton, she wants to do with her adopted son. Does she want to support him financially? Have a friendship with him? Of course the discovery of a specific child raises specific questions, but Admission spends more time poking fun at Portia’s fiercely feminist mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin) than it does at actually exploring what Portia would do differently in raising her own child, or why she might genuinely not have wanted children at all, given her upbringing. And the movie never even really resolves the question of whether Portia doesn’t want to be a parent, or whether the trauma of her unwanted pregnancy caused her to bury her maternal urges, preferring instead to throw in a silly montage in place of character development.